nicky2910's book reviews

I've always been an avid reader. And I love writing about and discussing the books I read.

SPOILER ALERT!

Conclave by Robert Harris

Conclave - Robert Harris

The pope is dead... and 117 cardinals are about to seclude themselves in the conclave to elect a new pope. No, make that 118. There are 4 favourites, but as the saying goes: Who goes into the conclave as pope, comes out a cardinal.

 

Although it's mostly talk and introspection, Harris manages to keep one yearning for more. Especially his point-of-view character Lomeli who presides the conclave is a surprisingly relatable protagonist, with doubts and a crisis of faith that's heart-felt, especially the conflict between faith in Christ and faith in the institution of the Catholic Church. I think that's an important difference because lots of people have lost faith in the Church but not necessarily in God or Christianity. Unfortunately, for some officials that's often the same thing and those people, now looking for a new spiritual home, are left adrift, ripe for the picking for demagogues with unsavoury goals hidden within sweet promises.

 

In the end it's not so much a story about the election of a new pope but of a man regaining his own faith. That's where this novel very much succeeds. As it does in portraying a range of characters, from super-progressive, to manipulative, ambitious, world-weary, some deeply flawed, others shaped by circumstances.

 

However, the plot itself doesn't hold many surprises and much is left unsolved (the events in the outside world, the old pope's last weeks etc), but I imagine that's due to the constraints of the conclave's seclusion which doesn't lend itself to starting investigations. Still, I was captivated throughout but mainly to see if my predictions were right (and they were, every one of them), rather than because of unforeseen twists and turns. And I could have lived with that because it's still a gripping tale of introspection and psychology. But the final twist (especially since it's obvious from a mile away) was a bit too much and went beyond credibility, even more so in modern times. I think that Harris wanted to add something unique into his story - and I agree that at some point such a development will and has to come to pass. But the way this twist was introduced doesn't necessarily mean progress for the Church itself as long as an agenda that speaks of lasting and fundamental change within the structure of the Church isn't mentionned. And let's face it, the respective character and the story itself didn't need this. So, somehow, I can't help but think of this twist as some kind of trendy publicity stunt, and an unnecessary one at that, mind you.

 

Therefore, the ending did put a bit of a dampener on my enjoyment of this novel - but it's still a good and suspenseful tale.

SPOILER ALERT!

Star Trek: The Fall: The Crimson Shadow by Una McCormack

Star Trek: The Fall: The Crimson Shadow - Una McCormack

This novel is another excellent entry about Cardassia by McCormack and closely follows "A Stitch in Time" and "The Never-Ending Sacrifice".

 

Tthere's a new political movement coming to power, Cardassia First, populist, isolationist, xenophobic, just on the eve of the withdrawal of the Federation from Cardassian soil. Civil Unrest is threatening, just as a Bajoran Starfleet officer is killed. Then Nan Bacco is assassinated, and the withdrawal put into question by the pro-tem UFP president. Garak and Picard work tirelessly to prevent open civil war on Cardassia and maintain the shaky alliance between the UFP and Cardassia.

 

Cardassia is a perfect example for a state that has never really known democracy, just an oligarchy or dictatorship, and now, still fighting the effects of the Dominion War, poverty, pollution etc, it's on the brink to fall back into old systems. I appreciate the matter-of-fact way of story-telling instead of swinging the moral hammer, because, yes, we see this every day, and how many states that only recently embraced democracy have fallen back into the abyss?

 

Garak's one of the most complex figures in all of Star Trek. He's a murderer, a spy, he dragged (together with Sisko) the Romulans into the Dominion War... but somehow he retained or regained a (shrewd as it might be) moral compass. He's not acting out of a need to prove himself or to gain advantage for himself, but for the good of Cardassia. And right now, what he perceives as the good of Cardassia aligns itself with reality. Let's see what happens when he's actually in power.

 

I enjoyed the letters which start almost every chapter, sent and unsent, by Garak to Bashir (and one to Parmak, his closest friend on Cardassia) because they bring insight into his thoughts and anguish. I loved the painting by Ziyal which is sort of his shrine to her and how he uses his memory of her to remain within moral borders. And I love Bashir's one reply warning Garak not to become his father.

 

McCormack leaves the reader to figure out all the emotional intricacies, just as she did in The Never-Ending Sacrifice. Her prose isn't really made for action-sequences, but it's perfect for relaying emotions, motivations... and slowly captivating her readers until they're hooked and can't put the novel down until it's finished.

 

This, together with A Stitch in Time and The Never-Ending Sacrifice is certainly a must-read novel regarding Cardassia.

SPOILER ALERT!

Star Trek: The Fall: A Ceremony of Losses by David Mack

A Ceremony of Losses (Star Trek: The Fall) - David Mack

Shar asks Bashir for help when studying the Meta-Genome provided by the Tholians leaves the Andorians stumped in their search for a cure for their fertility crisis. Bashir obtains a whole copy of the Meta-Genome and invites fellow-geneticistis to Bajor to come up with a cure. And they are successful, but not everyone actually wants to help the Andorians. And so Bashir risks everything to reach Andor himself.

 

I have to admit, I actually detest the way Bashir's kind of flaunting his superior intellect around and, of course, comes up with an ingenious cure. But, in this case, my anger and disbelief rather rests with the rest of the Starfleet officers we know, since at least Bashir's motivation is true and heartfelt. I emphasize that because there always are those who just obey without question - but the characters we know, we saw develop over 25 years, should be above mere obedience. And I realize that in a military hierarchy you can't just question orders left and right, but sometimes when things are as obvious as here, there can't be any doubt or hesitation. So, especially Ezri with her 9 lifetimes worth of experience didn't really endear herself to me.

 

And so, we have a president pro tem of the Federation after Bacco's assassination who's using the Andorian secession to build his own base of power, practically using the Andorians as example for what is to come if ever any other member of the Federation should even contemplate an exit (blockade, misinformation, even covert military action, keeping a cure from a species on the verge of extinction). We have the Andorian government who are also withholding strands of the genome to the scientists because the ruling party wants to have a tighter hold on the rule first (fighting the progressives who'd arguably benefit from a cure which consists of rewriting the genetic code of the whole species). And we have the Typhon Pact who are trying to entice the Andorians into joining by giving them bits of the genome. All around, it's bad to be an Andorian right now.

 

In the end, the cure is delivered, it works, Andor is reapplying for membership in the Federation and the leader of the Progressives announces her candidacy for President fo the Federation, opposing the president pro tem. Maybe another nitpick here: the Typhon Pact and the government (before it's voted out of office) are awfully impassive, considering they have major stakes in the game. But by then, the book focuses more on Bashir than on the whole political situation on a larger scheme.

 

Bashir himself faces a life-sentence for treason in using the meta-genome.

 

The novel itself is, as per usual for Mack, well written, suspenseful and fast-paced. Since I haven't read the earlier novels depicting the Andorian crisis and secession, the background here is a bit missing. Another unheard plea to the publishers to include a "previously on"-section... Just one thing, though: if it needs 4 people to conceive one child, small wonder that the process is prone to flaws. Just one little aberration, and the whole balance is off.

 

Overall: engaging.

SPOILER ALERT!

Star Trek: Terok Nor: Day of the Vipers by James Swallow

Day of the Vipers - James Swallow

This book covers the years 2318 to 2328 - or rather, the day of official first contact between peace loving, religious Bajor and expansionist, war-torn Cardassia, up till the official start of the occupation.

 

It all starts when a Cardassian ship returns a lost Bajoran trading ship to Bajor. What is first seen as a friendly gesture by a race that some district ministers have contact with, leads to settlements of a persecuted religious minority (which bears similarities to Bajoran faith) and the presence of Cardassian military forces in Bajoran space. But Dukat and the Obsidian Order won't rest until Bajor is firmly under Cardassian jurisdiction.

 

This is a gripping account of the beginnings of Bajor's occupation, of how Cardassia slowly gains influence using puppets, sycophants, infiltrators and agitors and the actual occupation is practically a fait accompli even years before. It's a fascinating tapestry Swallow weaves about a forbidden religious minority that finds sanctuary on Bajor (but is used as a stepping stone in every way imaginable), about Dukat who abhors Bajor's richness in food (especially considering that his family is practically starving and immersed in civil unrest), its complacency, its strong religious foundation, about a kai who was shown in a vision an emissary would come, about the Obsidian Order's modus operandi and about the friendship of 3 Bajorans who are directly and indirectly affected by Cardassian presence on Bajor.

 

There are a few questions that remain, such as why Cardassia doesn't just invade, because Bajor has practically no defense ressources and invasion (or turning Bajor into part of their Union) was the goal from the start. At first Cardassia's still tied up with other military operations, so I'll grant them the first 5 years. But then? Perhaps it's the fact that although Bajor's in fact a conquered territory, that the Order managed to use their assets in a way that in the end it looked like the Bajoran government sanctioned, even asked for Cardassian troops to keep the peace. At least that's the reason (among others) why the Federation doesn't interfere. Bajor, after all, is an independent planet who decides its own fate - only that it doesn't really here.

 

But it's an intriguing tale about what it takes to make overt military action practically unnecessary, to destabilize a planet's government so that it practically asks for invasion. Compelling, and a bit frightening (especially given the recent talk about outside influence on elections) to think that one only has to manipulate a few spokes in order to get the whole wagon to tumble down. Definitely recommended - even if there are few better known characters in it, such as Dukat or Kotan Pa'Dar whose enmity with Dukat is explored a bit here. It just takes a while to really get going, but once it does it's difficult to put this book down.

SPOILER ALERT!

Star Trek: S. C. E.: #19 Foundations, Part 3 by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore

Foundations, Part 3 - Dayton Ward

This is definitely the best part of the Foundations-trilogy which sheds light why the SCE-teams also contain cultural specialists, linguists etc.

 

Scotty again remininsces about a past mission where the SCE-team was confronted with a sudden first contact situation which easily could have gone wrong and got not only the team killed but also turned an alien species into an enemy of the Federation.

 

A much more straight-forward story without too much technobabble and repetitions. Just hope there'll be other stories with Mahmud al-Khaleed - and I hope the next parts will refocus on the crew of the da Vinci.

SPOILER ALERT!

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent (Divergent Series) - Veronica Roth

In a dystopian Chicago, cut off from the rest of the country, the people are divided into 5 factions depending on their most prominent trait, which is found out through a process of simulations when they're 16. But Tris's simulation is inconclusive, she's what's called divergent and urged to keep that her secret because, as she finds out later, divergents are being hunted and killed. Tris decides to leave her home faction, Abnegation (selflessness is their motto, governing their part in society), for the Dauntless (the brave ones who function as society's security forces within and without), and is soon immersed in a brutal battle for initiation because whoever fails ends up being factionless, without purpose, without means depending wholly on the goodwill of others, i.e. Abnegation. But it turns out initiation isn't the only thing Tris has to worry about. There is her romance with her instructor Four, and there's trouble on the horizon for the whole society as the Erudite (who seek knowledge, but apparently also ambition and power) start to question Abnegation's role. But mere words don't seem enough in that battle, and maybe being a divergent is more important than Tris thought.

 

Well, another trilogy about a dystopian future, another society on the brink of extinction thinking of ways to divide and control its people, another first-person account of a 16-year old girl who finds herself inadvertently being different, being a leader, and being the hope of her people. Sounds familiar?

 

Still, the story in itself is interesting enough with the initiation ritual, the whole mindset of the 5 factions (just think about the whole population being divided in just 5 groups... is there nothing more than friendship, candor, knowledge, selflessness and bravery in the world?) and the way it's determined in which section you belong - because apparently, a youth chooses his or her faction, and can choose any faction even if the simulation points to another. So what's the point of the simulation before the choosing-ceremony? And what exactly is brave about attacking your opponents in their sleep or trying to kill them? The factions are meant to reduce crime, but apparently that only goes for inter-factional crime, because what happens within a faction stays within, and the rules for getting rid of opponents seem pretty flexible. That's one point that wasn't really fleshed out all that well.

 

As is the case with Four: He's Tris's instructor, and becomes her protector, so that she falls in love with him isn't that much of a leap. But what exactly makes him fall for her? He says it's because she's brave... well, but that's the character trait of all dauntless, isn't it?

 

Overall, the characters, except for maybe Tris herself, remain rather bland and 2-dimensional, so I'm not too invested in them. The novel itself is well written, the plot reasonably interesting (even though it could have used some tightening up in the middle), but I'm not sure if that's enough for me to pick up the other parts soon. I just have the feeling I've read it all already; there simply is a distinct lack of originality beyond the dystopian vision and of characterization which keeps me from yearning for more.

SPOILER ALERT!

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

And the Mountains Echoed - Khaled Hosseini

This is Hosseini's third novel, his weakest so far.

 

The story begins with the separation of the siblings Abdullah and Pari when Pari is sold to a childless rich couple in Kabul. What follows is a collection of short stories of people who are sometimes closely, sometimes loosely connected to that event, stories of love, of friendship, of blurred lines between these two, of family, of failure, of how people deal with loss, sickness, disfigurement in their own ways. And of how loved ones might not turn out to be whom you thought them to be.

 

"Sometimes a finger must be cut to save the hand."

 

Again, Hosseini manages to weave a tapestry with his words, especially the first story of about 50 pages, and the stories and allegories which are turned into reality within that one, showcase his tremendous abilities as a writer. But as much as the main story arc comes together in the end, there are unfortunately parts that remain apart, that don't mesh with the others... well, that don't quite fit right into this tapestry. Maybe it's the various changes in story-telling, maybe it's the way people are included who don't actually feature in the main plot, but in my opinion 2 or 3 of those short stories could have been cut without damaging the overall arc.

 

Even though this novel didn't grip me as much as his 2 previous ones - although, make no mistake, some stories, the first one, Nabi's and of course the bittersweet ending, again an allegory in itself about the blessing and the curse of forgetting, of letting go and of holding on, again brought a lump to my throat if not outright tears to my eyes -, I'm still in awe of Hosseini's talent and definitely on the lookout for his next book.

SPOILER ALERT!

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

So, what do you do when the guilt over something that happened in your childhood eats you up and prevents you from really living your life? You'll unconsciously look for a chance to redeem yourself.

 

"A man who has no conscience, no goodness, does not suffer."

 

Amir and Hassan practically grow up in the same household in Kabul, Amir, the son of a philanthropist who's revered in the community, and Hassan, the servant's son. They are close, and Hassan endlessly loyal, even throughout Amir's disparaging comments, until one winter's day the idyllic world is ripped apart when Hassan's assaulted and Amir doesn't interfere - and later on even drives Hassan and his father from the only home they've known. Years later, Amir's now married in the US, an old family friend calls him to Pakistan, uncovers the lies his childhood was built on, and offers a chance of redemption: go back to Kabul and save Hassan's son.

 

Usually, I'm not too fond of 1st person narratives. But they can, as in this case, work astonishingly well. As Amir grows up, so does his view on the world: from the arrogant, inwardly insecure boy always striving for his father's reluctant approval, always seeking out Hassan's presence but just maybe only to have someone to look down upon, to someone who hates himself for what he's failed to do and whose whole life changes because of one single event before it changes even more when he and his father are forced to flee to the US and start anew selling junk at flea markets. At least he finally gets to know the man his father is... even if still only partly because one revelation changes his entire perception. The focus falls on one little boy, left alone in Kabul and fallen into the same hands that ripped Hassan and Amir's childhood from them. And Hassan's reply to every of his demands during his childhood becomes his own after finally seeing a little smile on the face of that world-weary child:

 

"For you, a thousand times over."

 

This novel is an amazing journey into the aftermath of tragedy, into guilt and redemption, and into forgiveness given freely, even if you yourself don't feel you deserve it. But most of all it's a story about love, loyalty, friendship and family. Hosseini has the great gift of weaving a story tapestry with his words that sucks you in and leaves you grasping at every ray of hope that is offered... and those are few and far inbetween. And every time you think there's finally some good on the horizon he throws you right back into the darkness and despair that has you on the edge of your seat and a lump down your throat. An emotional tour de force that leaves you enriched, yet deeply humbled.

SPOILER ALERT!

Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold

Brothers in Arms - Lois McMaster Bujold

The Dendarii reach Earth for supplies, medical aide and monetary compensation, and while Miles tries to sort all this out, he gets to know Duv Galeni, essentially his superior in Barrayar's Embassy on Earth, a Komarran who lost his family during the Komarran occupation and now serves as some kind of poster boy for the integration of Komarrans into the Imperial service. And Miles has to juggle his various identities, coming up on the spot with a clone theory when his cover as Admiral Naismith is threatened to be blown. Little does he know at that moment that there's more truth to his invention than he's dreamed possible.

 

"Brothers in Arms" introduces two major players within the saga: There's Duv Galeni who's going to become one of Miles's closest allies within the service (of course, while grumbling about it), and then there's Miles's clone brother Mark, created by Galeni's father to replace Miles, take over the Empire and usher in a revolution from within against the Vorkosigans and from without in the form of another Cetagandan invasion... at least that's the plan.

 

Duv Galeni's quite a complex character. As Komarran he's always under suspicion, yet he was admitted into the Imperial Service thanks to Aral. As a history scholar he knows to question what he's been told about the Barrayaran annexion of Komarr, and he knows that sometimes you have to leave the past behind to embrace the future. His confrontation with his father, whom he thought dead, puts all that he's worked for in danger. I absolutely appreciate Galeni, he's complex, he's honest and honorable, and he thinks before acting (something Miles has troubles with at times). And I love the fact that Aral's hunches about people pay off here again, a skill Miles has inherited from his father, to gather people around himself who are not afraid to speak their mind, who are loyal and worthy of Miles (and Aral)'s high regard and loyalty in return.

 

Speaking of Miles: He's got to convince his adolescent clone who's come to hate him - who wouldn't after having had to endure countless surgeries to physically resemble Miles, endless conditioning to resemble him in his manners and be able to pass off for him (even fooling Ivan who arguably knows Miles best) -, who's come to hate everything Barrayaran that actually there might be a real place for him within Miles's family, within the Barrayaran Empire. The confrontations between those two were definitely the highlight of this novel - and again show off Miles's people skills, his awareness of his unique origin, his loneliness as an only child (and the reasons for that)... and Mark's own yearning for a family and home even though he's not yet ready to act on that and face Barrayar as his own man, not a puppet of a fanatic.

 

On a sidenote, especially in the light of "Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen", I paid particular attention to Miles saying that, although Aral and Cordelia could have had more children due to advances in medical science especially on Beta, they didn't even consider going down that route due to Miles's ambiguous standing in Barrayaran society.

 

Things are about to come to a head soon: Is Miles ready to face life on Barrayar? Or are the strings attaching him to the Dendarii, his position at the head of command, not being weighed down by his physical impediments and common prejudice, and Elli who's not willing to settle down on backward Barrayar, too strong? Are Admiral Naismith's days counted anyway now that the Cetagandan might have discovered Miles undercover role? And Mark? Where's he going to pop up next? Great setup for the next stage in the Vorkosigan-saga.

SPOILER ALERT!

Macht von David G. L. Weiss

Macht - David G. L. Weiss

Macht ist der der erste Soloroman von Weiss nach seiner Sina-Trilogie, die zusammen mit Gerd Schilddorfer verfasst war. Und ich muss zugeben, begeistert bin ich von diesem Buch nicht.

 

Josephine Mahler, Anthropologie-Professorin in Frankfurt, kehrt nach Jahren zurück in ihre Heimat Wien, allerdings für einen traurigen Anlass: Ihr Schulfreund Gabriel, ein evangelischer Pfarrer, und seine Frau wurden ermordet. Kurz zuvor wurde sie von Gabriel kontaktiert, der sie nach Symbolen fragte und Wahrnehmungen preis gab, die Josephine zu dem Zeitpunkt ins Reich der Paranoia abgetan hatte. Die Suche nach der Wahrheit zwingt sie nun, ihre Vergangenheit, die unaufgearbeitete Beziehung zu Gernot Szombathi, ihrer Jugendliebe, zu konfrontieren genauso wie die Grundfesten ihres Weltbildes. All das allerdings unter dem Damoklesschwert, dass die, die Gabriel auf dem Gewissen haben, es auch auf seine autistische Tochter Lilly abgesehen haben, die seit jener Nacht seltsame Symbole zeichnet und auch Zeugin der Ereignisse war.

 

In weiten Strecken wirkt dieser Roman eher wie ein müder Abklatsch der Sina-Triologie, v.a. dessen 1. Teils, "Ewig". Spann 2 alte Freunde zusammen, die sich aus den Augen verloren haben, und schick sie auf Schnitzeljagd. Führ noch ein paar Verschwörungstheorien ein, schüttle und fertig ist die Handlung. Nur ist das leider etwas wenig, denn die Charaktere bleiben glanzlos bis banal und die Handlung eigentlich unaufgeklärt. Irgendwie werden in einem Kapitel noch haarsträubende Theorien vom kollektiven Bewusstsein gefaselt, dann postuliert, dass der Massenschock von 9/11 das Magnetfeld der Erde kurzfristig geändert hätte... und dann ist es aus, obwohl sich die Protagonisten gerade noch in der Höhle des Löwen, dem Hauptquartier vom diesmal bemühten Geheimbund, befanden. Keine weitere Erklärung, wie sich die Situation in Wohlgefallen aufgelöst hat, im Gegenteil, denn im nächsten Kapitel fahren sie einfach heim. Und es bleibt ein Fragezeichen über Gernots Rolle in der ganzen Angelegenheit....

 

Zu den inhaltlichen Problemen kommt die gezwungen legere Sprache: Wie oft kann sich Gernot irgendwohin "fläzen", ohne dass einem das Wort zum Hals rauskommt (jetzt mal abgesehen davon, dass das ein deutscher Ausdruck ist, der in einem in Österreich spielenden Roman mit österreichischen Hauptcharakteren deplatziert wirkt)? Oder Udo (und alle anderen) kichern, ohne dass sie ein wenig verrückt rüberkommen? Zumindest ein gutes hat der Roman aber: die vielen Anspielungen auf zeitgenössische Filme und Kultur - so fand ich die Erwähnung von Star Trek: Into Darkness und Benedict Cumberbatch recht erheiternd...

 

Abgesehen davon aber bietet dieser Roman einfach zu wenig. Im Mittelteil zieht sich die Lektüre wie ein Strudelteig und wie schon erwähnt, das Ende ist praktisch nicht-existent. Dafür gibt es mit der genannten Situation um Gernot immerhin einen Cliffhanger. Aber ich glaube, dieser ist nicht wirklich stark genug, um mich dazuzubringen, die Fortsetzung "Recht" auch tatsächlich in die Hand zu nehmen...

SPOILER ALERT!

Star Trek: S. C. E.: #18 Foundations, Part 2 by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore

Foundations, Part 2 - Dayton Ward, Kevin Dilmore

It took me about a year to finally finish this story - it's not a bad story, as it deals again with the crew of the Lovell and depicts the aftermath of the shut-down of the computer Landru, framed by a similar situation faced by the da Vinci's crew... but honestly, I found the prose difficult to connect with. I don't need endless repetitions in a 100 pages story. Things aren't quite so complicated that I can't grasp them the first time around. And I'm still waiting for some fleshing out of main characters - what does it say that al-Khaled is better portrayed than most of the protagonists (which saves this part its second star, mind you)? Granted, he had a good stint in Vanguard, and I absolutely liked him and his crew there, on the other hand, the da Vinci now had 18 short-stories and they are nowhere near any kind of complex characterization.

 

Just the thought of Wildfire, which is said to be a turning point within the series, is keeping me going right now.

SPOILER ALERT!

Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Rise Like Lions by David Mack

Rise Like Lions (Star Trek: Mirror Universe) - David Mack

It's almost 100 years since the Terran Republic was conquered by the Klingon/Cardassian Alliance - and all that Spock's been working for went underground. The rebellion is adrift, without a leader, fighting too many battles on too many fronts, but it only needs a figurehead to unite the factions, to point them in the right direction and to rebuild the world into the vision Spock gained by melding with McCoy back in "Mirror, Mirror".

Rise like Lions isn't the direct successor of Sorrows of Empire, unfortunately. There have been a few books in the DS9-relaunch that play into it, that set up the stage (such as Iliana Ghemor's role on Bajor which kind of jumpstarts the action here, or Kes), so that's a bit of a downside if you come directly from Sorrows. Again, I question the choice by the editors not to include a short "previously on"-section (or at least a list of books you should read previously) because not everyone read every book, and within the narrative, especially here, events remain a bit unclear.

Nevertheless, it's the small details that make this book rather enjoyable: Like Calhoun and Jellico getting on (albeit they did so after the big hiatus in NF as well), Luther Sloan being part of the Terok Nor-rebellion, Picard's insecurity and natural ability to lead, Duras being a good guy here etc. But actually, what happened to Jadzia that she wasn't there? I remember her in the MU-episodes, so there was a Jadzia. Did she die?

Overall the question of the end justifying the means continues here. This time the Alliance comits genocide on the Vulcan slaves, they wipe out whole solar systems to make a point. And the rebellion considers replying in kind... but finally, they don't, they realize that in order to change the world into something better, they can't found that change on terror and destruction. Interestingly, it's O'Brien, backed up by Ghemor, who makes that point, not the Memory Omega people left behind by Spock and led by Saavik.

But the one premise that bothers me most in the MU is the fact that all the people we know actually exist there despite the MU having a hugely different past. And still the same people had the same children, and those children actually turn up at the same locations? Yes, it's fun, but it really asks you to disregard probabilities... especially considering that humankind and the Vulcans have been enslaved and conquered peoples.

If there's one thing I'd wish for it is to see a continuation, because as we witness every day, the transition from rebellion to revolution to democracy isn't an easy one. Does the newly built "federation" actually work (especially backed up with the threat of a genesis device)? Because right now, while Spock didn't lose his centuries-lasting game of chess, did he actually win it? Only time will tell.

SPOILER ALERT!

Star Trek: Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire by David Mack

Star Trek Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire - David Mack

This novel is set entirely in the Mirror Universe, introduced in TOS's "Mirror, Mirror", and depicts the aftermath of said episode, Spock's rise to power and his trying to change the fate of his universe.

 

The overall theme is whether the ends justify the means: Spock's definitely not hesitant about using the Tantalus field to get rid of opponents (no matter how close they are to home), he's exterminating entire species, he's inciting wars, all in the name of bringing peace to the Terran Empire - albeit a delayed peace because he thinks that the Terran Empire can only thrive out of the fire of opression. It first has to be destroyed, the territory and peoples enslaved in order to rise again as a democracy. And why? Because people in power don't want to relinquish it, and the people enslaved don't know any better. Again quite an interesting spin on modern history. But where's the line? Is it justified to throw whole generations into turmoil so that future generations experience a peaceful collaboration and democracy? Spock gives his own answer, well aware of what he's doing.

 

As usual Mack poses interesting questions, his prose is easy to read and get into. But one point of criticism remains: He's an author best suited to action, to wreak havoc over the whole galaxy, but the little moments, the ones that give you real insight into the characters, the ones that make me empathize, the ones that engage me, that cause me to be invested in a story on a deeper, emotional level... I kind of miss those in his books.

 

The novel ends with the Empire (or rather the short-lived Republic) conquered by a Klingon-Cardassian Alliance and Spock executed, Spock's legacy remaining hidden within a few asteroids...

 

... to be continued in "Rise like Lions".

SPOILER ALERT!

Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold

Cetaganda - Lois McMaster Bujold

This is my second time reading this novel - and let's just say: Bujold's books are eminently re-readable. No matter whether you've read them once already (like this one 12 or so years ago) or multiple times (like Cordelia's Honor, Memory, A Civil Campaign)... love her writing style, her Miles-voice, her way of establishing different cultures. That alone makes for quite a high rating. But let's focus on "Cetaganda".

 

Miles and Ivan are on their way to the Cetagandan homeworld to attend the funeral of the late Empress when their flight is rerouted and they are attacked. During the fight they get ahold of a strange device whose origin, they later learn, is the Imperial Star Crèche, where all Cetagandan genetic information is stored. During an official funeral procession, Miles discovers their attacker dead at the late Empress's feet, an apparent death by suicide, and he learns from Rian, the handmaiden of the Star Crèche, that the device, the Great Key, is essential to the future of the Cetagandan Empire. Miles realizes that he's stepped into a far more dangerous mystery than he originally thought: one that could destroy the Cetgandan Empire from the inside... and put the blame squarely on the shoulders of Barrayar.

 

"Cetaganda" offers an intriguing glimpse into Cetagandan society with their genetic engineering, and the question of who controls whom - but it also shows that Miles still isn't able to trust his superiors, or rather that he's a teamplayer but only when and if he's the one calling the shots. And additionally there's his inherent inferiority complex due to his physical impairments to consider which practically forces him to try and prove himself  through his wits at every turn... especially since no one may know of his real role within ImpSec, and everyone believes he has his job through nepotism (a thought on which he at times reluctantly relies to throw people off his scent). All this turns him into a very complex character with distinct flaws - but honestly, I just love him, his internal voice is so precious and his struggles within the system (i.e. his conversations with Vorreedi, his de facto boss on Cetaganda) are an absolute joy to read, as are the mutal interrogations with Benin. I admit I have a thing for intelligence, for smart people and how they act around each other - and this is one of the Vorkosigan-series's strengths.

 

And there's also Ivan who stumbles from one blunder to the next, who's presented as the ideal subordinate who likes to have orders and doesn't much think about them - and who also likes to transfer any problems to his superiors to mull about, leaving him without worries. At least, that's the picture he likes to project. But then there's the Ivan who's loyal to a fault to Miles (and vice versa I guess, despite any teasing) - and who actually comes up with the solution. Well, he does come from a very similar gene-pool as Miles, just that he's learned that sometimes it's opportune to remain in the background, to set up smoke-screens in order to defer attention from yourself. Quite the contrast to Miles.

 

I won't really get into Cetagandan internal affairs here, because you actually need to read those 300 pages to get some inkling of understanding. It's just a really interesting society, with the haut lords practically running the place, and the ghem-lords securing power for them. Not to mention the role of the haut ladies who essentially rule over the genetic legacy, whose genome is worthy continuing on, whose family is going to die out - and all this information is centralized in one location which starts the whole affair. So despite the differences, the whole genetic engineering issues, is the Cetagandan system of haut rule so different compared with the Barrayaran with their Vor (except for the female role which on Cetaganda is more advanced than on Barrayar)?

 

But the genetic engineering serves for quite a few curiosities as well, such as the kitten-tree... or the ethereal beauty of the haut ladies... who knows, perhaps Miles is so intoxicated by Rian's beauty and that's the reason why he won't report to his superiors. Well, at least that would be a simpler explanation than his inherent issues.

 

In the end, the Cetagandan system survives because of Miles's actions - and he's rewarded, even if this reward by the Cetagandan Emperor comes with the effect of raising suspicions within the Barrayarans. So for once, he gets recognized for his actions but he won't actually be able to show his medal back on Barrayar. Quite the move by the Cetagandan Emperor, ensuring the whole affair remains secret. The only thing that remains a bit unexplained is the concrete motivation of the culprit in the first 2 attacks against Miles and Ivan. For one thing Miles is a scapegoat, that's not the problem. But why target his infirmities with the fountain (which, like an MRT-device, heats up all metal and therefore burns Miles''s feet in their braces) or Ivan's by the pheromones? Just to ridicule them? To throw them off? Or was this left to the personal touch and revenge of the Cetagandan artist whose grandfather fought in the Barrayaran invasion?

 

Overall, this is an intriguing novel which, for once, puts Miles just in the role of Lord Vorkosigan representing Barrayar in the state funeral (he's 2rd in line for the throne after his father, after all), no Dendarii Mercenaries, no political intrigue on Barrayar, no depressed Gregor - and still he manages to stumble into a major plot. I'm looking forward to revisit Cetaganda in later books because Dag Benin, haut Pel and, of course, haut Rian left a very positive and interesting impression.

 

Still, despite the positive things I've said, I prefer Miles interacting with Barrayarans, dealing with troubles at (or closer to) home, forcing him to face his physical and mental issues as well as the prejudice on his homeworld, which is why "Cetaganda", despite being enjoyable, doesn't quite have the same impact on me as previous (and later) novels within the series.

SPOILER ALERT!

Star Trek: Myriad Universes: #3 Shattered Light: Honor in the Night by Scott Pearson

Star Trek: Myriad Universes #3: Shattered Light - David R. George III

This final review covers the third story, Honor in the Night, by Scott Pearson.

 

Nilz Baris's, former Undersecretary of Agriculture, President of the Federation and Ambassador to the Klingon Homeworld, final words were, "Arne Darvin". A reporter investigates why the name of an aide dead for over a century, might have been on the mind of the great former President in his last moments.

 

Here, the deviation from the known universe is that Darvin wasn't exposed as Klingon on K-7, and the poisoned grain was planted on the colony world of Sherman's Planet - leading to the loss of the colony and thousands of lives, and pitching Baris against the Klingons. It's not the only colony where the conflict gets heated, a couple of years later, earthquakes devastate the cities on Benecia... and instead of revealing Klingon culpability in causing the earthquakes, Baris and Klingon liaison Kamuk strike a deal to cooperate - the first of many which lead to Baris's rise in ranks.

 

This is an intriguing tale about alternate Klingon and Federation relations. And it's an intriguing tale about what motivates people to cooperate: Baris is driven by contempt, guilt for covering up genocide, but also by wanting to avoid violence - and Darvin... well, he was the one who was ordered to poison the grain, killing countless colonists in a, for Klingons, utterly dishonorable way, just for the sake of expansion despite the Organian treaty. So, for a 100 years he tried to redeem himself (and the Klingon honor in general), and to improve the relationship between Klingons and the Federation, and to show that Klingon expansion can yield benefits for colony worlds. But history is going to be the judge of that - at least, if his actions ever see public light.

 

And this is perhaps the most interesting facet of this story: How much does the public need to know? Who makes that decision? And when? Interestingly, this issue reminds me a bit of Voyager's excellent "Living Witness". But I have to admit that this story, based on "The Trouble with Tribbles" which never has been one of my favourite TOS-episodes, while well written and reasonably entertaining, didn't engage me on a deeper level, simply because I have never cared about Baris or Darvin.

 

About Shattered Light in general:

Review of The Embrace of Cold Architects by David R. George III - 3 stars

Review of Tears of Eridanus by Michael Schuster and Steven Mollman - 1.5 stars

 

Overall, this makes for a 2.5 star average - rather low for the Myriad Universes-series, I'm afraid.

SPOILER ALERT!

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaleed Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini

Mariam, a girl born out of wedlock and living in a shed outside of Herat, has only one dream: to go live with her father Jalil whom she adores beyond measure. After her mother's suicide, indeed she joins his household only to realize that he sees her as embarrassment - she's married off to a man, Rhasheed, living in far-away Kabul, who's 30 years her senior. After multiple miscarriages, the already loveless and cold marriage turns ever more violent.

 

Years later, the girl Laila grows up in the immediate vicinity with a loving and educated father and an estranged mother, who resents having had to send off her two sons to fight against the Soviets. Laila's best friend is Tariq who lost his leg as a child due to a landmine. Inevitably, they fall deeply for each other, and consummate their relationship on the eve of Tariq's departure for Pakistan. Weeks later, after having finally convinced her mother, Laila's family is packing up as well, just as a rocket detonates in her home, killing her parents and leaving her injured. When she wakes up she finds herself in Rhasheed's household who's doing everything to convince her that marrying him is her only chance of being safe.

 

What follows is a powerful tale about family, love, endurance, dominance, deception, violence, acceptance - underlined by the ever changing political climate in Afghanistan. Much of it is difficult to read, especially for a woman - the casual violence against and humiliation of women (being beaten for so-called infractions like walking down the street unaccompanied by a man, being denied proper medical care and having to endure surgeries without anaesthetics), the being locked away (figuratively in the burqa and literally), the impression that women only serve to fulfill the men's needs (just the expression of "he mounts her" reminds me of animals, of not having any choice), being essentially at the complete and utter mercy of your husband (and other men). How does a society work that runs on subjugating one half of the population?

 

But the far stronger facet of the novel, aside from the changing outside factors, is the love that runs through it despite every obstacle, the small spark of hope in an endless sea of darkness: be it the love between a man and a woman, the love between parents and child, the love between siblings, the love born of shared pain.

 

Mariam is so beaten down by years of abuse, coming after the humiliation of being a 2nd-class child, that she only starts to fight back when, for the first time, someone, Laila, is rushing to her defense. She finds love and acceptance there, the will to protect them at any cost, and she makes peace with the consequences. The tragic part is that if she had opened her heart a bit earlier, she might have known within her lifetime that she was cherished even before. But sometimes actions speak louder than words or mimics. And so, Jalil's last letter comes too late:

 

"May God grant you a long and prosperous life, my daughter. May God give you many healthy and beautiful children. May you find the happiness, peace, and acceptance that I did not give you."

 

If only he knew what his actions actually condemned her to.

 

Laila keeps asking herself how much one can endure before being broken - with the right incentive apparently almost everything. Because of Mariam's sacrifice she's able to start a new life, even if all of them bear scars from their experiences on their bodies and their souls - and there's no easy happy ending to have. But she knows, some things go beyond death, like her connection to Mariam.

 

I have to admit that I spent most of the final quarter of the book in tears, starting with the surprising visitor at the doorstep, which revealed the house of lies Laila's life was built on, up until their return to Kabul, starting to rebuild their home and lives after the Taliban were driven out.

 

Make no mistake, this novel doesn't pull any punches, it's going to put you through the wringer - and it will stay with you. What an experience.

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